coalition

PACs Gone Wild

JUST AFTER THE election, a New York Times editorial implored the president and Congress to "get to work fixing the current badly flawed, out-of-date campaign finance system." The Kansas City Star called it "painfully obvious" that the system needed change.

Those were after the 2008 and 2004 elections.

We all know how the cycle works: Every four years, politicians mount ever-more-expensive campaigns. After each election, the nation's papers call for reform. Meanwhile, business as usual—the business of the lobbyists, that is—continues in Washington.

So here's a proposal: Let's put an end to this cycle. Call it the "Reform in Four" campaign.

Step 1: Build a bigger army. We need to immediately broaden the coalition for reform—from environmentalists to the faith community to pro-reform Republicans, corporate leaders, and Tea Party members who are concerned about cronyism. The good news is that, in a July 2012 Gallup poll, 87 percent of Americans said that "reducing corruption in the federal government" should be a "very important" or "extremely important" priority for the next president. It ranked second, just below job creation (at 92 percent).

Step 2: Create a wave of Teddy Roosevelts. Reform needs champions; right now it doesn't have enough. Candidates in both parties will need to be recruited and supported to run against the Big Money system. Reformers are sometimes uncomfortable with this step, in part because they work for nonprofit organizations that are barred from getting involved in elections. But as the CEO of a national environmental group told me: "When I first came to Washington, 30 years ago, I didn't think that you had to get involved in the messy game of politics and elections to have an effect. Now it's clear to me that that's the only way. Not having a political edge is a killer. Reform groups don't have one."

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